Mushaira at Quixote’s Cove


Written by Shuvangi Khadka

In the three-day workshop, ‘The Art of Ghazal’, organized by Word Warriors (WW) at QC bookshop, we tried to create our own mushaira. With steaming chiya and some biscuits, for most part of first two days, we traced the historical path that the ghazal followed all the way from Arabia to America. Poet and translator from Pakistan, Asad Alvi was the facilitator of workshop. He not only taught us about ghazal as  another poetry form but also as a way of living in the country of its origin. The workshop, in its true sense, taught us the “art of ghazal” which goes beyond writing two lines with rhyming words.

Attended by majority of the free verse writers, the stress could be clearly felt in the air, when on the last day, we were asked to write our own ghazal. Personally, being unaware of rules of radif and kafiya, I had never thought of writing a ghazal to be such a challenging job. But like they say, there’s a first time for everything and I have to say I had never thought exploring this new form would be so interesting.

Here is the ghazal I wrote during the workshop, my very first:

Ode to Kathmandu

Encaged in the fold of mountains around us,
Through paddy fields, city is speaking around us.

Histories built on one log of wood here,
remnant of Dharahara peeking around us.

Hubbub midst the “chair” has always been here,
another Kot Parwa creeping around us.

Kumari still longs for her freedom.
Crescendo of bells leaping around us.

Are you intoxicated by the city, Casper?
No, it’s the city that’s tripping around us.


Even though the ghazal originated in Arabia as an expression for romantic or erotic love, it  evolved as a prominent form in Persian literature where it acquired most of its rules.  Adoption of takhallus i.e. mentioning poet’s pen name in the final couplet, strict use of Persian refrain called radif (which is a repeating word or phrase that comes immediately after the rhyme in every rhyming line of the poem) and autonomy of each couplet are some of the distinct characteristics of a Persian ghazal, all of which were covered in our workshop.

Over  time this form has travelled across continents and suffered many deviations.  For example, it became very common for English ghazals to have radif and no rhyme. As a result this type of poem was called bastard ghazals. Even though literary cultural exchange gives a way for reforms, the modernization in ghazal only made it lose its essence. So we learnt that it is important for any poet to be true to the form in which he/she is writing a poem because it’s not just about writing a poem but understanding its importance in its own culture. It’s respecting its origin and all the struggles it has gone through to keep its form intact. Ghazals are mostly misunderstood  only as a generic term simply meaning “love poem” and this has led to ignorance of its norms. The workshop not only taught us the art of ghazal but also inspired us to experiment with other forms while keeping in mind about its norms.

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